Medical Illustrator Education and Training Program Information

Medical illustration training is available through bachelor's and master's degree programs. The curriculum combines anatomy and physiology lessons with coverage of artistic methods and graphic design skills.

Essential Information

Coursework teaches students to draw or create images of human and animal bodies as well as plants. Bachelor's degree programs offer a comprehensive combination of science and art education and master's degree programs focus on topics like business, multimedia and modeling. Online courses and programs are generally not available in this field.

  • Program Levels in Medical Illustration: Bachelors and master's degrees.
  • Prerequisites: All programs typically require a portfolio. Bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma or equivalent and prerequisite classes in the arts and sciences. Master's level programs require a bachelor's degree in science, art or education, including specific prerequisite courses, as well as a GRE test score that meets minimum standards.
  • Program Specializations: Medical illustration, biological visualization, scientific visualization, biomedical illustration, etc.
  • Program Length: Bachelor degrees are 4 years, but the medical illustration program is typically the last 2 years. Master's degrees typically take 2 years to complete.

Bachelor's Degree in Pre-Medical Illustration

Titles for medical illustration programs may include biological, scientific and biomedical illustration or visualization. Pre-medical illustration degree programs typically prepare students for graduate coursework. The biological aspect of the degree focuses on plant and biology art, while the pre-medical portion relates to human and animal anatomy, medical terminology and artistic rendering techniques for vertebrate tissue, molecular cell biology and related topics. This program may result in a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Students applying to pre-medical illustration programs are sometimes required to do so in their second year of study on a 4-year degree plan. The first year consists of introductory courses and enables students to build a portfolio. Students are required to have a high school diploma or GED certificate and are encouraged to take numerous prerequisite classes in art, biology and chemistry. A portfolio and essay are typically required for admission to a baccalaureate pre-medical illustration program.

The curriculum provided in a pre-medical illustration college program is a comprehensive mixture of art, design and scientific coursework. Subjects may include:

  • Drawing and design fundamentals
  • Basic art design software
  • Concept and digital drawing
  • Insect, animal and human biology
  • Human physiological characteristics
  • Developmental biology principles

Bachelor's Degree in Medical Illustration

A bachelor's program in medical illustration combines traditional artistic methods with computer technology and biological sciences. Students learn medical illustration techniques by drawing, painting, sculpting and digitally creating images of human and animal anatomy. Computer animation techniques involving 2- and 3-dimensional design add a modern slant to this undergraduate degree program. This program does not vary substantially from a pre-medical illustration program, but may be preferred by those who don't intend to pursue a graduate degree.

A high school diploma or its equivalent is required for acceptance to this undergraduate program. Medical artistry programs typically require high school coursework to include at least two years of biological science as well as some art training. As with most art and design programs, applicants may need to submit proof of art studio experience as well as a portfolio.

Drawing, painting and sculpting are all courses included in a medical illustration bachelor's degree program, but graphic and digital design are emphasized as well. Coursework entails:

  • Illustration in dimensions
  • In-motion artwork
  • General, human and animal biology
  • Gross human anatomy
  • Surgical art composition
  • Computer animation methods

Master's Degree in Medical Illustration

A medical illustration graduate program is typically two years long and may offer concentrations in computer animation, digital illustration or prosthetic design. Although programs typically result in a Master of Science, it is also possible for students to gain a Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts. Program names may vary from 'medical illustration' to 'biological visualization,' among other variations.

Regardless of the title, these programs offer similar objectives. Research and business management classes are provided in addition to coursework focused on advanced biomedical sciences, surgical observations and multimedia studies. Students learn how to apply new skills while addressing research topics in the medical field.

Qualifying individuals are required to hold a bachelor's degree related to the field of arts, sciences or education for admittance to a graduate program in medical illustration. They are asked to submit a portfolio with a minimum of 20 examples, letters of reference, and a letter of intent; they must also complete a personal interview. Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are sometimes needed. Prerequisite courses may include anatomy and physiology, drawing, graphic design, computer graphics, developmental anatomy and tissue studies.

Programs differ in the structure and delivery of coursework. Some medical illustration curriculums are pre-planned, while others offer extensive electives to choose from. Subjects may include:

  • Clinical science principles
  • Educational design
  • Business fundamentals
  • Craniofacial characteristics
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Anaplastology methods

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports illustrators among craft and fine artists. Craft and fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, are projected to see a three percent growth in employment from 2012-2022, according to the BLS. The average annual salary of fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, was $51,120 in May 2014.

Popular Careers

After obtaining a graduate degree in medical illustration, individuals are qualified to enter teaching careers. Other potential positions are:

  • Medical media artist
  • Legal graphic artist
  • Medical art producer
  • Creative Director
  • Consultant

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